Report on the Lead-Free Summit in Boise, Idaho, March 1-3, 2023

On February 28, Wildlife Center President Ed Clark traveled to Boise, Idaho to participate in a “Lead-free Summit” organized by the North American Non-lead Partnership, a coalition of state wildlife agencies and conservation organizations, and Sporting Lead-free, a conservation initiative of the Teton Raptor Center. The purpose of the summit was to assess the effectiveness of efforts to promote non-lead hunting and angling and to identify projects that participants in the summit can collaborate on.

During discussions, one thing became clear: there is no single message or plan of action that has proven effective in solving the issue of lead intoxication in wildlife; to the contrary, many of the pushed-forward solutions have caused more harm than good. Such is the case of the recent ban on lead ammunition in the State of California.

In 2019, California passed a law prohibiting the sale and use of lead ammunition for hunting. State law also banned the purchase of ammunition online, in an effort to prevent citizens from ordering lead ammo from outside sources. Unfortunately, most local retailers do not sell lead-free alternatives. As a result, residents of the state have struggled to find lead-free ammunition, and reports indicate that a very high percentage of hunters are still using lead ammunition simply because they cannot access alternatives. The result has been little meaningful reduction of lead toxicosis in wildlife. The fact that the provisions of the California law failed to consider issues of availability of non-lead ammo has created conflict and animosity between the hunting public and advocates of the ban.

The Wildlife Center has been working to avoid this type of scenario here in Virginia. Ed Clark spoke with others at the summit about the Wildlife Center’s measured approach to promote lead-free hunting through community-based education instead of legislation, and how this approach could significantly broaden the methods that are being taken in other states.

At the conclusion of the summit, participants decided that non-lead advocates need to work more closely with wildlife rehabilitators like the Wildlife Center of Virginia to collect data on the extent of lead intoxication in wildlife. Ed asked members of the summit why they have not worked closely with wildlife rehabilitation organizations in the past; the concern of most members was that wildlife rehabilitation organizations would be associated with anti-hunting or animal rights groups, thus damaging credibility of the message with hunters and anglers. To address this issue, the Wildlife Center plans to organize presentations targeted at wildlife rehabilitation organizations, to teach effective advocacy techniques, or as Ed Clark put it, explain how “making noise” or “making a point” is often antithetical to “making a difference”.

While planning is in the early stages, Ed is considering both the Wildlife Center’s annual Call of the Wild Conference and the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association Conference as avenues to connect with colleagues about this topic and discuss all parts of the issue, including the lead intoxication of wildlife, the availability of lead-free alternatives, the dangers of total bans on lead ammo, the role industry plays in this issue, and more. 

The Wildlife Center will also be promoting the more widespread testing of scavenging species for lead intoxication. While Bald Eagles and California Condors get most of the attention, the Wildlife Center’s own records contain evidence that more than 40 species of wildlife treated at the Center have displayed measurable amounts of lead in their systems, including not only birds but also mammals and reptiles. 

At the same time, other participants in the summit will be undertaking efforts to document the progress that has been made.  While the problem of lead intoxication in wildlife is far from being solved, the needle has moved in the right direction. More manufacturers are producing and actively marketing non-lead ammunition, and many national sporting organizations and publications have gotten on the bandwagon in support of a lead-free sporting future. Members of the lead-free summit plan to reconvene on an annual basis to keep the momentum going. 

For more information about the issue of lead toxicosis in wildlife, visit the Center's wildlife issues page.